For The Want of a Horseshoe Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. 
For want of a shoe the horse was lost. 
For want of a horse the rider was lost. 
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost. 
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost, 
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This famous proverb has been used across the centuries to indicate the importance and necessity of small things in the grand picture. We see this truth all around us. That is why kings and generals and Supreme Court justices have quoted or made reference to For Want of a Nail. We know almost intuitively or instinctively that a failure in the small things, in the less regarded things can and does lead to a failure of the whole.

The Ancient Greek knew it. Aristotle writes,

“The reason is that a principle is great rather in power than in extent; hence that which was small at the start turns out a giant at the end.”

Aristotle, “On the Heavens” in The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: The Modern Library, 2001). Bk. 1, Chap. 5, 271b, p. 404.

Then the inimitable Medieval Scholar, Thomas Aquinas, picks up on the same theme and writes,

“A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions.”

Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1949), Prologue.

Then the renowned Reformer, Francis Turretin, leverages the same axioms in observing supposed corruptions in the Scriptures when he writes,

“Nor can it be said that these corruptions are only in smaller things which do not affect the foundation of faith. For if once authenticity (authentia) of the Scriptures is taken away (which would result even from the incurable corruption of one passage), how could our faith rest on what remains? And if corruption is admitted in those of lesser importance, why not in others of greater?”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, 71.

If small put potent elements or pieces or words are lost, then the whole kingdom, doctrine, and even Scripture can be lost to us. The Ancient Greeks knew it. The Medievals knew it. The Reformers knew it. We in the modern west know it, but we pretend like we don’t.

And yet, when we here at claim every word of our Bible is and must be the word of God for our Bible to properly be called the word of God we are told that corruption can be admitted of lesser things without jeopardizing the whole. Forgetting the fact that the “lesser things” and the “greater things” are the same kind of thing – inspired Scripture. We are told that small errors at the outset cannot and do not affect major doctrine. We are told that small corruptions here and there are not and cannot turn out to be great corruptions.

My point is, the current evangelical milieu on this point goes against its scholarly heritage all the way back to the Greeks. The no-major-doctrine-is-affected argument and the minor-errors argument are tragic testimonies to the Church’s intellectual homelessness. She has wandered from her Christian and scholarly heritage seeking to make a modern and detached place of her own among the pigs and husks of modern secular scholarship and she does so with the inheritance she received from her scholarly Christian forbearers.

For want of a nail the kingdom was lost and for want of a word the Bible was lost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: